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Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)

Jan’s Atomic Heart (АТОМНОЕ СЕРДЦЕ ЯНА)
by Simon Roy
New Reliable Press, 2009

Some time in the far-ish future.

For a science fiction graphic novel set in the distant future, the world of Jan’s Atomic Heart seems surprisingly like our own: the moon may be colonized and people may telecommute as robots, but they still jog, go to egg restaurants, and drink lukewarm coffee.  While it obviously takes design cues from classic cyberpunk sequential art like Ghost in the Shell, the world Roy imagines is different from the Gibsonian dystopias of infinite darkness and a neon light flashing in a human face, forever.  It’s not steampunk, or biopunk, or magickpunk, it’s… normalpunk. (Please, kill me now.)  For all technology has changed, it doesn’t seem to have changed Jan, the titular human waiting for a new body after a car crash teleprojecting into an old android, his mysterious friend, Anders, or the society they find themselves living in.

Darko Suvin, the noted Yugoslav-Quebecois science fiction scholar, wrote of two elements that defined science fiction: the novum, or new idea, and cognitive dissonance, the sense of unfamiliarity, otherworldliness, or unexperience that springs from the novum to make a world unlike our own.  While Jan’s Atomic Heart certainly has plenty of nova, it lacks that cognitive dissonance that they should create; I could never, reading it, shake the feeling I was looking at modern Frankfurt inhabited by future pre-enactors.  For all the robot baristas and skyhooks, the world still operates exactly the same as the one we experience every day does.

This is not, however, to say that Jan’s Atomic Heart is a failure. At its core the interest lies not in the world of this future Frankfurt but the strange friendship between Jan and Anders – I’m loath to say more lest I reveal the story’s key twist – and the potboiler detective story that emerges and Jan begins to fear he is being used as a potential walking bomb.  The notion of an unwilling suicide bomber is not necessarily a new one (just wait ‘til Fringe Files gets to you, “s2e03”) but it’s the fact that this has so few consequences for Jan that makes this story unique.  His body may be used as a remote bomb, but he is helpless to do anything, trapped, watching in horror and trepidation for the body provided him as a convenience could kill thousands of people at any moment.  It’s this fear that drives Jan’s Atomic Heart and the relationship between Jan and Anders, without any extraneous material: the story is packed into fifty pages of a fifty-six-page softback.

The art in these fifty pages is delightful and atmospheric, with the sketchy, occasionally shaky pen and lovely watercolor work gives a lot of the locations and machinery that feature so prominently in the story a worn, lived-in look.  The sketchy style is particularly effective, oddly, in the action-packed finale, as it adds to the sense of chaos in a way much of the clinical action-art of recent mainstream comics (‘sup, big final battle in Civil War) hasn’t had or hasn’t needed.  Character design on Jan is remarkable, making his robot body look equally familiar and frail just as it might seem alien – even to Jan – and threateningly aggressive.  The occasional use of Cyrillic text hints at a background for the story, but mostly seems to be there just to serve the aesthetics of the cover: Jan and Anders may live in a Slavic section of town, but the only other Russian influences we see are a couple ads for Gazprom and a Lunar independence banner written in English and Russian.  Oh, did I mention Simon Roy’s only twenty?  Sheesh, now I feel old.

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I miss you.
How are you doing?
Let’s please talk about country music sometime.

xoxo — and please keep well !


Comment by jwelshleekrlh

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